OREM — When Michael Jacobsen became UVU's athletic director 29 years ago, his program had no facilities and just four part-time coaches. On Tuesday the Western Athletic Conference announced UVU would be joining its conference, capping off an improbable and incredibly rewarding journey for Jacobsen and the entire school.
"This move recognizes the many years of effort that have gone into building UVU's excellent athletics programs. Aligning with a nationally recognized conference partner like the WAC allows us to more fully reflect who we have become as an institution and athletics program," said Jacobsen. "As we enter a new era for UVU athletics, I am excited about the opportunities that await UVU and its student-athletes as we develop fruitful partnerships and athletic rivalries with regional sister institutions."
UVU has gone from having just four athletic teams that made due playing home games at local high schools to 15 teams that play in top-rate facilities. The WAC noticed all of that and offered the Wolverines a spot as a result.
UVU will officially join the WAC along with Cal-State Bakersfield on July 1, 2013.
"Both are quality institutions and bring high-level competitive and academic qualities to the 2013-14 membership," said WAC Interim Commissioner Jeff Hurd of the two additions. "We are excited to begin the process of rebuilding the WAC and will continue to work to reestablish the league as one of the top Division I conferences in the West."
UVU and CSBU join with Idaho, Seattle, Denver and New Mexico State in forming the new WAC. If things go according to plan, the WAC will add as many as six more schools in the near future — hoping to maintain its auto-bid to NCAA tournaments, which is huge for UVU.
The Wolverine baseball team won 40 of its final 41 games last season only to be stiffed by the NCAA in regards to a regional tournament invitation. With its inclusion into the WAC, that won’t happen — at least not during a two-year grace period granted by the NCAA. During that time, the WAC hopes to do what's necessary to permanently keep its auto-bid status.
Jacobsen was quick to credit everyone involved with his athletic program that passed through UVU without the luxury of major-conference affiliation.
“This wouldn't be possible without the students," said Jacobsen. "To our student-athetes, you've been recruited to and came to UVU, knowing that there is really no light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that you could be the best you could be in the conference and among the best in the country with no opportunity for automatic qualifiers. You've still been willing to come and be a Wolverine. ... We appreciate you and we love you."
Jacobsen credits the growth of the school and its academic institutions for the growth of the athletic program.
"We've just done our best to keep up with the tremendous growth of this school," said Jacobsen. "You haven't been able to hold back this school and how it's grown and fortunately it's paved the way for us to grow our programs and build the great facilities we have here now."
Jacobsen understands that affiliation in the WAC will bring a better level of competition. And he realizes his athletic program needs to continue to grow.
"This is a great milestone, but we hope it's just the beginning of more things we can accomplish here," he said. "It's been such a thrill for me to be part of this. It's been a lot of hard work, but it's been incredibly rewarding for me and my family and most importantly, for the institution. It's our job to now work as hard as ever and continually push UVU forward."
Western Athletic Conference
Cal State University Bakersfield
University of Idaho
New Mexico State University
Utah Valley University